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School of Geography

Work as we knew it has changed. Time to think beyond the wage

Dr William Monteith, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Queen Mary has written for The Conversation on the concept of work and the need to reimagine it based on the experiences of the global majority.


When people hear of ‘work’, it is usually waged or salaried employment. Governments and commentators rarely speak of the work of hustling, child-rearing or subsistence farming. Instead, work is generally referred to in the narrowly economic and legal sense as non-domestic, legally codified, paid employment.

Yet this model of work is the global exception. Wage employment was invented by European states in the 18th and 19th centuries to generate an industrial workforce. It later provided social protections such as sick pay, holidays and pensions to groups of predominantly able-bodied white male workers through what became known as the ‘standard employment relationship’. But this relationship was only ever available to a minority of people outside Western Europe and North America.

Recent developments in the organisation of production have led to the decline of wage employment across much of the world. Historical forms of precarious work, such as farming and market trading, have been accompanied by more recent waves of casualisation. This has left a growing proportion of the workforce insecure, poor and without social protection.

At the same time, digital technologies have facilitated the emergence of new forms of precarious (self) employment in the burgeoning ‘gig economy’.


Read the full article here.



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